A New Meaning to “House Gift”
In a few weeks, a much talked about beauty pageant will be taking place in Western Croatia. Prizes will be awarded for most beautiful, most photogenic, best personality and all around best… goat. Miss Goat Istria 2009! The pageant was apparently started to make sure traditional goat farming did not disappear, and has now became a rather popular event!
I learned about this when face to face with a goat at the Brijuni National Park on Veli Brijun. This island was the private retreat of former Yugoslav leader, Josep Broz Tito, and was then opened to the public in 1983. There are actually 14 islands that make up the Brioni Islands, only two of which can be visited. Tito spent his summers there, and his passion for animals was infamous. When guests came to visit from all over the world, instead of a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers, what did they bring? Animals. What would you do if you invited some friends over for dinner, and they brought an antelope? Or a tiger? A pony was brought by Queen Elizabeth II, zebras by an African president, and elephants (Sonny and Lanka!) came from India. My favorite were the Croatian ostriches, but boy are they hard to photograph – they move fast! One thing that won’t be moving very fast – or at all – are the dinosaur prints on the island as well. Passing through a gate that appears to be taken off of the Jurassic Park movie set, you’ll see these tracks right off the water, discovered about 100 years ago.
The islands have something for everyone. If you’re into fauna, you’re in the right place with the 60 animals in the safari park (plus tons of deer bouncing about), all quite friendly and used to humans by now. You can drive around on a golf cart or rent bicycles to explore. There is a museum that houses all of Tito’s animals that were stuffed after they passed away. Attached to that is an exhibit on the man himself, with an impressive collection of photos of Tito with well known world leaders and celebrities. You can also get a view from afar of his Bijela Vila, the White Villa, which was his official residence from 1953 to 1980. There are Roman ruins just off the water, which makes for a beautiful juxtaposition, as well as a golf course with more to be built in coming years. And last but not least, an olive tree that is seventeen centuries old! It was planted in 480 AD and still produces olive oil! The tree is officially owned by the government, and the oil is not available to the public, but rather bottled in tiny quantities and given as gifts to state officials. I wonder if they actually eat it! (Don’t miss the pack of deer in the background of the olive tree photo below.)
To get to the islands, you can hop on a boat in Fa?ana, about an hour south of Novigrad and just north of Pula. It’s a small fishing village with colorful buildings and a pretty harbor. At the tourist office off the port, you can buy your tickets to cross the channel, and read all about the world leaders that went to the island – 90 statesmen from 60 countries, including Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro and Yasir Arafat. You’ll learn which famous women made the trip too – Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Princess Carolina of Monaco, Naomi Campbell and Josephine Baker, to name a few.
Enjoy the short boat ride over and just think about Tito making the trip for the first time back in 1947. Or rather, think about what you would take as a gift to Tito! I’m sure your mother too always taught you – “never go to someone’s home empty-handed.” I’m just not sure she had a giraffe in mind!